As I was wending my (rail)way back across the country I was struck by signs on Wolverhampton station identifying it as the home of Wolverhampton University. One wonders where else people would expect to find Wolverhampton University, if not in Wolverhampton? Other university towns I passed through did not feel the same need to emphasise that their eponymous university was sited as would be expected.
Cambridge station does mention that Cambridge is home to Anglia Ruskin University (but makes no mention of the much older institution of higher education with which it shares the city), but this does seem to offer information which is not entirely obvious.
Perhaps the signage reflects insecurity on the part of the burghers of Wolverhampton: they want to make clear that their city boasts a university. I think I’d boast about being the site of the UK’s first automatic traffic lights (which does make me wonder if there were older, manual traffic lights elsewhere?) or the birth place of “Iron Mad” Wilkinson – but each to their own.
There is (at least) one thing which links the universities mentioned on Wolverhampton and Cambridge stations – they’ve both been through quite a few names over the years (rather like British Leyland and Sellafield). WU is on its fourth name since the “Wolverhampton Mechanics’ Institute” was formed in 1835 (though only the seriously mature traveller would still be seeking the WMI), while ARU which started life as the Cambridge School of Art back in the 1850s is now on its fifth name. Perhaps the railways are being used as an attempt to strengthen the current “brand identity”. I’ll need to visit more “university” towns to see if my theory of nomenclature evolution holds more generally – it should be easy enough to contrive a trip through Hatfield…